Part 22 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
IRON MAIDEN – Best of the Beast (1996)
I’m not sure what prompted Iron Maiden to put out their first greatest hits disc in 1996, but at least they did it in style. Originally available as a limited edition 2 CD book set, it was pretty extravagant packaging for the time. My only beef is by the nature of such packaging, the paper sleeves will always scratch your discs, 100% of the time.
This album was also available in a standard edition single disc, with the songs in a different running order. I don’t have that one so I’m not going to talk aboot it.
The 2 disc version, perhaps to emphasize that Blaze Bayley is the current Maiden vocalist, starts at the present and then rewinds all the way back to the beginning, closing with The Soundhouse Tapes! An interesting approach indeed. As a listening experience I’m not sure that it works that well.
Since we’re starting at the present, the album kicks off with a new song. “Virus” is 6:30 of same-old same-old X Factor Maiden, but not as good as anything on that album. It drags and drags for three minutes before finally kicking into gear, but it is otherwise repetitive and boring until then. Lyrically, it is another attack on the sicknesses in society, much like “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Justice of the Peace” were.
Then back in time one year, to “Sign of the Cross”, the dramatic 11 minute epic from The X Factor, as well as “Man on the Edge”. (I would have preferred “Lord of the Flies” to “Man on the Edge”, but perhaps “Man” was the bigger single of the two.)
To bridge into the Fear of the Dark album, a new live version of “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is featured, with Blaze Bayley singing. It’s a good live version, but it’s immediately obvious that Blaze is no Bruce.
Bruce takes over on the next track, “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, and we’re back in the saddle. Singles (including the popular live version of “Fear of the Dark”) and album tracks are counted down from 1993 to 1986’s Somewhere In Time album, ending disc 1 with “Wasted Years”, a great closer. My beef here: I would have preferred the single “Stranger In A Strange Land” to the album track “Heaven Can Wait” (but I know the Heavy Metal OverloRd doesn’t agree with me!)
Disc 2 is the glory years, if you will, everything from Live After Death to the beginning. It begins with the epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a ballsy move for a greatest hits album, and the live version at that. Chasing it is the live single version of “Running Free”. Then we count them down, all the singles from Powerslave to “Run To The Hills”, plus “Where Eagles Dare” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name” thrown in for good measure.
Then it’s the Di’Anno years, which are given an unfortunately brief expose. “Wrathchild”, from Killers is one of the best songs from that era, but the only included track from that album. Maiden’s first epic, “Phantom of the Opera” and the single “Sanctuary” represent the debut Iron Maiden. Finally, an unreleased track from The Soundhouse Tapes sessions (“Strange World”), and the rare Soundhouse version of “Iron Maiden” close the set. To read my review of The Soundhouse Tapes and these tracks, click here.
There was also a 4 LP vinyl edition available, with 7 extra tracks: “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, “The Prisoner”, “Killers”, “Remember Tomorrow”, an exclusive live version of “Revelations” from the Piece of Mind tour, plus the final two songs from The Soundhouse Tapes, “Prowler” and “Invasion”. You can read a story about the 4 LP edition by clicking here.
And there you have it, Maiden’s first greatest hits set, with lots of the hits and plenty of rarities thrown in for the collectors. I confess that I don’t listen to it often, and this time for this review was the first time in roughly two years.
The cover art was once again by Derek Riggs, doing a sort of mash-up of his (and nobody else’s) Eddie’s. It’s a suitably glorious piece of art for such a monument of metal. The inside of the book is loaded with concert dates, lyrics, liner notes, and chart positions, as well as more Eddie’s and photos!
I still want to talk about the single, “Virus”, but I think that it should get an article of its own. Check back soon for that!
Curiosity: the cover features an ad for the never-to-be Iron Maiden video game, Melt! Maiden did eventually release a video game, but we’re not going there yet….
For the 2 CD edition of Best of the Beast: